The Case for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Toxic Hazards

Publication Type:

Web Article




Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) (2010)






In the 1970s, Congress passed a host of environmental laws that sought to adopt a preventive approach to reducing disease and protecting health and environment. Since then, average body burdens of some persistent toxic materials such as lead and cadmium have fallen, but those of other newer materials, like persistent flame retardants, have risen.

The major obstacle to a protective chemicals management system remains the culture of trade secrecy that allows firms to withhold information about potential health and safety dangers of their products. In my book, The Secret History of the War on Cancer, and in recent testimony to the President’s Cancer Panel on cancer prevention, I have advanced the concept of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Toxic Hazards.

The current regulatory system has failed to protect workers, their families and communities. Under the present adversarial system, companies can legally withhold information on the dangers of workplace hazards under the rubric of trade secrets, and they can also legally conceal information on health hazards as part of sealed settlement agreements...

Author's note: This essay is in response to: What is the key obstacle to implementing an effective, health-protective, chemicals management system?

See: Sandra Steingraber. Living Downstream: An Ecologist's Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment

See: "Our Look at the The Halliburton Loophole":

This exemption (from the Clean Water Act - authorized by the Energy Policy Act of 2005) allows non-disclosure of the toxic ingredients used near wells and aquifiers in drilling and waste injection.   The rush to exploit the Marcellus Shale (referred to by BP's Tony Heyward as a "game-changer") allows gas drillers to legally keep secret the contents of the fracturing fluids used in fracking.  Endocrinologist Dr. Adam Law of Ithaca, New York recently testified at the EPA Hearings in Binghamton that doctors cannot treat patients for exposure to chemicals if they don't know what they were exposed to.  TEDX, The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, directed by Dr. Theo Colborn in Colorado continues to investigate the relationship between health and environmental distress.

See: Poisoned profits : the toxic assault on our children

See: Tox Town

See: The National Children's Study (2010)

The National Children’s Study will examine the effects of the environment, as broadly defined to include factors such as air, water, diet, sound, family dynamics, community and cultural influences, and genetics on the growth, development, and health of children across the United States, following them from before birth until age 21 years. The goal of the Study is to improve the health and well-being of children and contribute to understanding the role various factors have on health and disease. Findings from the Study will be made available as the research progresses, making potential benefits known to the public as soon as possible.

See:Fracking: Implications for Human and Environmental Health